Opinion

WILFORD: Democratic Voters Turn Their Ire Toward Beto For Acknowledging The Federal Debt Crisis

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Andrew Wilford National Taxpayers' Union Foundation

Newly-announced presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has been criticized in recent weeks for being light on policy specifics. Of course, it’s hard to blame him for holding back on policy specifics when his primary electorate is hammering him for acknowledging some pretty basic realities about our debt crisis back in 2012.

Back in 2012, when he was in the middle of a primary challenge against then-incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes, O’Rourke stated that the size of the federal government was “extravagant” with an “out-of-control debt” and that “significant” spending cuts were necessary. That was true then, and it’s only become even more accurate as spending discipline has continued to slip.

It’s true that we are running trillion-dollar annual deficits and that the national debt has blown past $22 trillion in total debt. Unfortunately, that’s small potatoes compared to what’s on the horizon. Social Security and Medicare are going to blow our short-term budget problems out of the water as the baby boomer generation retires — these two programs alone are projected to run a deficit of $82 trillion over the next 30 years.

That’s a huge crisis in two programs that Americans contribute to from their paychecks and count on for their retirement. Unfortunately, it’s next to impossible for politicians to propose meaningful reforms to Social Security and Medicare without needing to look for work come next election cycle.

Instead, it’s become a common refrain on the left that the debt only became an issue on December 22, 2017, when President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) into law. That ignores the clear reality that we are in a debt crisis because our government overspends, not because we are undertaxed.

Even if the TCJA had never passed, our debt-to-GDP ratio would have gone from 76.65 percent in 2017 to 111.23 percent in 2027; with the tax reform law, the debt-to-GDP ratio was projected to increase just 3 percent by 2027, to 114.2 percent. An easy way to spot a dishonest partisan is when they blame the $1.43 trillion TCJA for our current debt crisis, but are mum on the $1.66 trillion bipartisan spending bill signed just a couple months later.

O’Rourke deserves praise for making tough statements while running for Congress in 2012. The candidate has been under attack from more extreme elements of the left due to his habit of taking positions that go against the tenets of democratic socialism — for example, refusing to back Elizabeth Warren’s tech breakup plan, making positive statements about capitalism and the power of the market, and seeming hesitant to endorse a single-payer plan. All of these heresies have led many on the left to suggest that O’Rourke doesn’t actually believe anything, a refrain that has been dutifully parroted by mainstream outlets.

Unfortunately, because of this pressure from the left, his spokesman has since felt the need to walk those statements back somewhat. For a primary electorate obsessed with denial of impending crises, the irony of a major candidate being savaged for acknowledging that Medicare and Social Security are in danger of not being solvent by the time millennials are ready to receive benefits from them is thick enough to choke on.

Beto O’Rourke was right to point to the need for Social Security and Medicare reform. It’s too bad that he’s stuck with an electorate that would rather engage in “deficit denial.”

Andrew Wilford (@PolicyWilford) is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fiscal policy analysis and education at all levels of government.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.